drone flying over a crowd

FAA gets micro drone recommendations

The final report from the Federal Aviation Administration’s working group on micro drones described how micro unmanned aerial systems should be regulated when flying over populated areas.

The Aviation Rulemaking Committee’s  report marks  a step toward fuller integration of the high-demand technology into the national air space.  It defines performance standards and operational restrictions for four categories of drones based on weight, and acceptable levels of risk to people on the ground should the drone crash. 

A Category 1 UAS can operate over people if its total weight –including payload -- is less than 250 grams, or .55 pounds.  No performance standards or operational restrictions were recommended given the low level of risk associated with these aircraft.  Furthermore, the ARC felt that the requirements set forth in the regulatory framework for obtaining an airman certification -- taking an in-person test and submitting to a background check  -- were too burdensome for such a low-risk device.  The group recommends the FAA allow online testing to satisfy knowledge requirements and eliminate background checks. 

According to the general aviation association AOPA, which served on the Micro UAS committee, flight restrictions for the aircraft in the remaining three categories would be based on their likelihood of injuring someone during operation.

The ARC also recommended manufacturers be required to label their products or packaging in accordance with industry consensus standards, and to provide an operating manual that includes instructions for flight over people. Drone operators should also be responsible for knowing what category of operations their UAS qualifies for, the committee said, and what operational limitations have to be followed.

This set of recommendations builds upon the ARC’s last report for small UAS registration in November 2015, which recommended that owners of aircraft weighing less than 250 grams not be required to register their devices with the FAA, while users operating drones between 250 grams and 55 pounds must. Taking many of the group’s recommendations to heart, the FAA in December 2015 announced users must register devices between 250 grams and 55 pounds through an online portal.

These flight recommendations are the latest in the FAA’s efforts to quickly develop rules for burgeoning UAS technology and its use in the U.S. airspace. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in March that registration of privately owned drones has jumped to almost 400,000.

The FAA is now reviewing the ARC’s recommendations and will “use the information in the report to develop a flexible, performance-based proposed rule,” agency officials said.

FCW’s Mark Rockwell contributed to this report.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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